Preserving Collaboration: Why we should think twice about plans for new Bronfman

February 10, 2016 by Max Friend

An academic building is a lot like a football team’s kicker. When it’s good, you barely notice. You move through your day going to class, blissfully unaware of its positive impact on your life. But when it’s bad, you’re furious. Every mistake is obvious, and you can’t help but wonder how on earth this building is the one you picked of all the options you once had.

Bronfman Science Center, as it currently stands in science quad, is like a phenomenal kicker – quietly making the academic lives of hundreds of students better each and every day. But the building is condemned, and the current plans for new Bronfman are eliminating much of what makes this building such a a gem for students at the College.

There are two main issues that I have with the plans for new Bronfman. First, the beautiful two-story library and community space shared by the math, psychology and statistics departments will likely be downsized and replaced with a much less homey work area. Second, many of the building’s classrooms may be moved to the basement and subbasement, replacing current first-floor classrooms with lab space.

I cannot overstate the impact that the Mathematics and Statistics Library has had on my learning, and on the learning of my peers. Truly, the majority of my learning occurs not in the classroom, but rather at the round tables and on the couches of that community workspace. On any given night in the Mathematics and Statistics Library, you’ll find groups of students from all levels of coursework learning together, professors walking in and out of their adjacent offices to check in and offer their support and a sense that no matter how hard the work gets, no one will have to suffer alone. It’s in that library that my classmates and I have struggled and succeeded together, teaching, learning and growing as students.

The community I associate with the Mathematics and Statistics Library is a safety net that enabled me to take risks academically and assured me that I would have support as I did so. At a college that prides itself on non-competitive, collaborative learning, large group-oriented workspaces are of the utmost importance. To deprioritize such a space only encourages academic isolation, a situation that many students (including myself) came to the College to avoid. The collaborative learning happening in the Mathematics and Statistics Library today is the kind of learning that tour guides pitch to prospective students, and the kind of learning that should be celebrated by the new Bronfman building.

But even those convinced that the library needs to be saved may be asking themselves, “Why does eliminating first-floor classrooms matter?” This brings me to my second point. While basement classrooms are generally not as pleasant to sit in as those above ground, this is not my primary concern. Some of the basement classrooms will have window wells, which will make for a decent setting. Others will not, but I have some faith that the architects will do their best to make these windowless basement classrooms as nice as possible. My main concern is that we are an undergraduate college, not a research university, whose main focus is student learning. The new Bronfman must reflect this noble fact.

When people walk into new Bronfman from science quad, they should be surrounded by students in a building that is there to serve their needs in the classroom. Yes, a student only uses a classroom for a few hours a week while a research professor uses their lab for much longer, but the total usage hours of hundreds of students coming in and out of these classrooms all day, five days a week, dwarfs any faculty member’s time in a lab in a given week.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that first-floor classrooms and basement labs need to involve concessions or sacrifices from anyone. Subjects of research could be welcomed into the building at the ground level on Hoxsey Street, near easily accessible parking (a big plus for those researching with young children and infants), all while increasing privacy for subjects in the lab.

I understand that there is only so much available space, and decisions about how to allocate it must be made. I understand that, at the end of the day, wherever the classrooms end up, students will attend lectures when and where they are scheduled. But I also understand that a project of this scale is worth doing right, and I believe that “doing it right” in the case of Bronfman means gathering as much student input as possible and making such feedback a primary concern. The College’s first priority is the learning of undergraduates. Our newest multimillion-dollar project should reflect this.

Students of the College, on behalf of the generations of students who will spend so much time in this new building, come to the open forum next Wednesday at 8 p.m. held by the New Bronfman Student Input Committee and make your voice heard.

Max Friend ’17 is a mathematics and psychology double major from Larkspur, Calif. He lives in Sage Hall.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nate Kornell February 12, 2016 at 9:15 am

Your first point, about the math library, seems to assume that the plans do not include a common space for math and stat majors. That is incorrect. It’s great that the current space has been so meaningful to you, but the new plan won’t end that.

It’s true that the new space might not occupy two floors, unlike the current math/stat space. But I would hope it was the people around you, not the air above your head, that made the place special for you. Making it one floor will mean that psych majors will have a common space like math’s, so that students in two majors can benefit from shared space instead of just the mathematicians.

Max, you and I agree on just about everything. But as a math and psych double major, in the new plan you might be able to praise the open space in both departments. As it is now, you love the math space. I wish there was a psych space for you to love too.

Nate Kornell
Psych Prof

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